Sportswriter By Bob Addie Excerpted with permission of Accent Publishing Co., Baltimore, $9.95.
Of all the players I have known in the major leagues, Frank Howard will always rank as one of my favorites.
Once, Tom McCraw was playing center field for the Chicago White Sox when Howard hit a drive that never seemed more than 10 feet off the ground. It wound up in the amplifying horns in deep center field. The next day, Al Lopez, Chicago manager, was kidding McCraw. "Tommy," said Lopez, "I think that if you would have jumped, you would have caught that ball Howard hit yesterday."
"That's right, Skip," answered McCraw, "and my ass would have been in the horns with it."
Clint Courtney was always a promoter. In spring training with the Senators in 1955, Courtney, a catcher, watched a 19-year-old Cuban rookie pitcher named Pedro Ramos engage in wind sprints. "That's the fastest man I ever did see," observed Courtney. "I'm going to make some money with him."
Courtney kept baiting Birdie Tebbetts, then the Cincinnati manager, to race the Reds' fastest man against Ramos for a sizeable bet. Tebbetts, who liked a challenge and a wager, picked as his man infielder Don Hoak, who had been a college sprinter. The word was that each club had bet $5,000 on its man.
The race was set for 100 yards over grass starting from deep center field and finishing just short of the pitcher's mound. Hoak started from blocks, as any sprinter would do. Ramos had never run on a track and took off from a standing start, losing valuable time." Hoak was off fast and got a seven-yard lead. But Ramos overtook him in the last 25 yards and won by five yards. The Reds paid off but were puzzled how the raw sprinter from Cuba could beat their experienced man.
Courtney had lengthened the course to 110 yards. "My man didn't know nuthing' about fancy running'," Courtney explained. "It wasn't cheatin'; it was just giving my man a chance."
One time the press was playing a group of Hollywood stars in a charity game at Griffith Stadium. Ramos asked me if he could bat for me. Nobody on the Hollywood side knew me or Ramos, anyway, so they so had no idea. I wore dark glasses. My name was announced and Ramos stepped into the batter's box. He caught a "fast ball" thrown by comedian Jerry Lewis and rifled it to center for an inside-the-park home run. Then Pedro quickly disappeared into a convey of teammates. The crowd kept applauding and, phony that I am, I stepped out of the dugout and waved my cap.
Conrado Marrero, a pitcher for the Senators from 1950-1954, was a great mimic. We were in St. Louis one time when the Browns were still there. Their manager, Zack Taylor, a grandfatherly looking man with a brat's temper, argued a strike call. Taylor became so carried away that his specs feel off and he accidentally stomped on them.
The next day, Marrero bought a pair of glasses at the dime store and did something of a dance in front of the dugout reminiscent of an American Indian with a hamstring injury. He was Emmett Kelly and Charlie Chaplin in a baseball pantomime climaxed, of course, by stomping on the glasses.
That performance was always remembered more fondly in St. Louis than the Senators were.
Marrero was the only man I ever saw who could stretch a hit into a forceout. But he had pride.
Mickey Mantle was playing right field in a game at Griffith Stadium. There was a man on first when Marrero sent a clean "hit" to right field. Mantle hustled and fired to first for the putout on Marrero. That's the most humiliating thing a batter can experience.
When Mantle came trotting in, Marrero shook his hand. "Nice play, Mickey," he said. "Now you pay." That night Marrero struck out Mantle three times.
Stan Spence, outfielder for the Senators, was a quiet man who always went to his room directly after dinner. He loved the Benjamin Franklin hotel in Philadelphia for its Parker House rolls. Stan would fill his pockets with them to ward off late-night hunger.
One Saturday night there was a Ukranian convention directly across the courtyard from Stan's room. Stan implored the people to keep the noise down so he could sleep. A big-bellied, burly guy suggested an impossible alternative, and kept taunting until Stan finally took one of his precious rolls and fired it across the gap, hitting the big guy right between the eyes.
The man was awed. "Hey," he said, "with an arm like that you oughta be in the big leagues."
We were in a small Georgia town one spring when Joe Kuhel was managing the Senators. Joe got into an argument with the umpire and was tossed out.
"As I was going out of the stands," Joe reported, "some farmer toting a shotgun asked me if I wanted to have the umpire shot. This guy was a Washington fan and he said it killed him to see a decision go against his team. I explained that I really didn't hate the umpire and that it was part of the game.
"You mean that all that cussin' and spitting' and fumin' was just for fun?' he asked me. "Oh, no,' I said, 'I really meant it. But I was hot.'
"'If'n I thought you didn't mean it, said the old guy, 'reckon I oughta shoot you, too.'"